Gauging Western Wildfires

by Sonia Fernandez, UC Santa Barbara
August 4, 2021

In recent years, wildfires on the West Coast have become larger and more damaging. A combination of almost a century of fire suppression and hotter and drier conditions has created a tinderbox ready to ignite, destroying homes and polluting the air over large areas.

New research led by UC Santa Barbara and the University of Washington looks at the longer-term future of wildfires under scenarios of increased temperature and drought, using a model that focuses on the eastern California forests of the Sierra Nevada. The study, published in the journal Ecosphere, finds that there will be an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity, followed by recurring fires of decreasing area.  

“Our ‘new normal’ is not static,” said UC Santa Barbara professor and co-author Naomi Tague, who teaches ecohydrology and ecoinformatics at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and developed the RHESSys-FIRE model that was used in the research.

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